In Literacy Instruction, ‘Without Engagement, You’ve Got Nothing’

Earlier this summer, I had the pleasure of hosting a webinar on edWeb.net and sponsored by myON. The focus of the webinar was sharing Gravity Goldberg’s 4 M Framework from her Mindsets & Moves book and the transformational effect it had on my classroom and literacy instruction. The framework outlined by Gravity offers a platform for educators to truly model the adage “work smarter, not harder,” regardless of how students are interacting with text. In preparing for the webinar, I wanted to be sure I presented a balance of pedagogy/research alongside my own story and experience. Based on the feedback from those who viewed the webinar, I was able to achieve my goal in finding a balance of content and story—success!

What Stuck?

After self-reflecting on the webinar and also reading the comments in the chat that took place during the webinar, it was clear that there was a single element that struck a chord with educators: engagement. As I mentioned in the webinar via a quote from Jennifer Serravallo, “Without engagement you’ve got nothing.” It all starts there. Too often, we are focused on making a frantic jump to student ownership and forget that real personalized learning has to first establish authentic ownership via engagement. I was thrilled that my story of transforming literacy instruction made an impact on attendees. I shared some insight in ways I re-prioritized my approach in order to understand students well and value who they are as readers. I started with observing them in action, talking about their process, and listening to them read. By getting to know my readers well, I could then make meaningful instructional decisions in the weeks ahead. 

Challenges for Implementation

Among some of the challenges attendees expressed, one stood out among the others: “Where do I start?” Although Gravity refers to the 4 M Framework, it really isn’t a monster of a shift in terms of logistics. It’s a mind shift, a change in how we view our readers. The 4 Ms, the management, the getting-started lessons, will fall into place only if educators make the commitment to apply an admiring lens to their readers. This is what Gravity establishes as the foundation for her work in Mindsets & Moves. I encouraged those in my webinar to lean into the challenge. While it’s not easy for big shifts to occur, particularly in the classroom, what many educators are realizing is the, “it’s always worked before…” adage no longer has its merit in literacy instruction. One of the best ways to let go of things that can be a roadblock to change is to lean right into them. That’s right: stare change in the face and embrace it! I emphasized the importance of starting small but leaning into the uncomfortable and discovering how you can improve your instruction without the fear of change. Challenge what your current mindset is telling you about the current climate. Gravity said it best, “All students are worthy of study, and we should regard them with a sense of wonder and curiosity.”

My Advice

As we navigate closer to the start of a new school year, here’s my sound advice for those looking to get started with Gravity’s 4 M framework. Rather than slating your first month’s worth of lesson plans, a more manageable idea is to really get to understand your readers for who they are: what they love about it, hate about it, and how they engage with text. A great way to do this is by using an engagement inventory. I’ll even articulate your objective for you: to assess whether the student reads for pleasure, or merely for school. Once you understand where each student is coming from in their level of engagement, along with the variables that contributed to the current level, you can truly begin the meaningful work of providing an environment for the student to show individual growth. Here is a link to a blank engagement inventory, courtesy of Jennifer Serravallo. In it you will find a roster with applicable codes that pertain to a variety of reading behaviors. I use an engagement inventory as the baseline to plan future instruction. Without it, I was simply playing a massive guessing game in terms of what my students needed. 

Obvious to You, Amazing to Others

The final element of my reflection upon the completion of my webinar is one that has many layers to it. It’s partly about sharing your work with others—the fails, the celebrations, and everything in between—but also that as educators we are sometimes so in it that we lose the ability to judge our own efforts to be change advocates. In this specific example of looking at Gravity Goldberg’s work as it relates to authentic literacy practices, it initially came across as obvious to her. OF COURSE I need to clean the slate and start first with getting to know my students—not by assigning countless pre-assessments and diagnostic exams, but by truly understanding why they read and how they do it. Thank goodness she was motivated to research, draft, and eventually publish her work in this book. For me, along with many others, it was the catalyst to change the way I approach reading with my students.

I’m reminded of a fantastic video animation by Derek Sivers that illustrates this exact point. Furthermore, it’s a great adage and lesson to share with young readers to emphasize that we’re in this game of personal growth together. What one student may think is an obvious takeaway from a book may be earth-shattering to another! Had the student not taken a risk in class to share their thought or idea, they would have robbed a classmate of an “a-ha” moment. So, share your successes and fails as you begin to apply Gravity’s 4 M framework. Reach out on Twitter, send me an email, and let’s apply that admiring lens to all readers because each and every one is worth it.

To view the entire webinar “Assessing Literacy Growth with the 4 M Framework,” click here.

Billy Spicer

Billy currently teaches in Lake Zurich Community Unit School District 95 in suburban Chicago. After spending a decade teaching 3rd thru 5th grades, Billy served students and teachers as an instructional coach. He recently spent time in the Bahamas with the Shedd Aquarium where he lived on a research vessel for a week conducting scientific inquiry. Prior to teaching in Lake Zurich he worked at Walt Disney World as a member of the Animal Programs department in entertaining, educating, and inspiring conservation action. He facilitates a passion for literacy, passionate learning, and social media to discover creative ways for students to meet their individual learning needs. Authentic and purposeful technology integration is a non-negotiable aspect in providing students with the tools to be successful. Billy earned his BA in Elementary Education at Illinois State University and a MA in Literacy and Reading from Benedictine University. He also enjoys hot dogs, coffee, and his ever growing collection of records. To learn more about his interests and passions in and out of the classroom, follow him on Twitter-@MrBillySpicer